psychology

Keep it secret! Keep it safe!

My preciousnesss
Creative Commons License photo credit: lrargerich

I read a short blog post a few days ago called ‘Creative Privacy‘, which posed the question “Do you agree that it’s best to keep your creative projects private until you’re ready for input and criticism?”… here’s what I posted by way of a comment:

This is a thorny one. I think it really depends on what you’re looking for by ‘letting people in’… and on your degree of artistic confidence. If you’re looking for approval or validation, because you need those things in order to feel OK about your work, then I think there’s danger there for sure. If you’re looking for criticism to hone your ideas, and you’re confident enough to handle that, it can be a healthy part of the process. It’s not necessary – some people create in a very private way, some in a very public way. I’ve experimented with both, and have pretty much arrived at a place where I’m confident enough to have a very open process; the project I’m immersed in now is a relatively public one, where I put out works in a very raw form and I’m not much bothered by how people respond to it. I’m really just happy if there is *some* response as opposed to deafening silence…

Predictably, there was a range of other responses, ranging from the somewhat paranoid (“what if someone steals your idea?”) to the more blustery (“I’m an artist. I don’t care about input and criticism!”). Some found an ambivalent middle ground; I guess you could put my own response in that category.

I think it’s worth examining our responses to this a little more closely, because they say a lot about our relationship to our work…

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The Trouble with ‘Should’…

Carrot + Stick < Love
Creative Commons License photo credit: opensourceway

Greetings! Once again I find myself writing here after a much longer absence than I had planned, which is unfortunate – but also, in this case, instructive… Cutting straight to the chase, I have been struggling a little with motivation, focus and productivity lately. Well, actually I’ve been struggling either quite a bit, or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In any case it’s something I’ve been giving a good  deal of thought, and I think some of it merits sharing here. So, on with the show!

A fine kettle of fish

To clarify, I should explain that I have a number of interconnected projects, initiated over the past couple of years, all of which I’m quite invested in but all of which are also somewhat ‘stalled’ in one sense or another. While none of them are exactly poised on the brink of completion, let alone massive success or return on the considerable time and energy investment I’ve put into them, I do feel they all have significant potential in one sense or another – whether on an artistic or business level – and so I’m quite attached to them.

So besides the obvious – too many things on the go – part of what is going on is probably the paralysis that kicks in when I get close enough to something to realize that the stakes are high and failure, possibly public and highly disappointing, is an increasingly real possibility. I seem to suffer from a kind of allergy against going the distance, finishing what I’ve started. A sort of disconnect creeps in and my attention drifts.

How is it that we (assuming this affliction is not unique to me, which strikes me as unlikely) can become so disconnected from meaningful work that we’ve spent valuable time and energy starting, thinking through, imagining and problematizing and re-imagining? More

Enduring Creativity: what marathons have taught me about creative energy

Paris Marathon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Josiah Mackenzie

I recently trained for and ran my 5th marathon, and as often happens since I started this blog, I began to think about what the experience might offer in terms of creative insight. I’ve written recently about the joy of creativity – about how good it can feel when it’s going well. This post will continue this theme, but also form a bit of a segue into what to do when it isn’t going so well…

(The title appeals to me because it contains a nice double entendre: the positive spin is that we are searching for and moving towards a lasting kind of creativity, a lifelong habit that brings joy and fulfillment to our lives and the lives of others; the flipside is that creativity can sometimes feel like an ordeal, something that must be endured, cannot be avoided. We just have to muscle through it somehow. The reality, at least in my experience, is somewhere in between, or more precisely a bit of both…)

I’ve noticed that sports and athletic metaphors are used quite often in talking about creativity. Perhaps setting the complexities of the creative mind against the different and somewhat simpler backdrop of physical activity makes it easier to observe and notice patterns.

Running, which happens to be my sport of choice, seems particularly fruitful as a metaphor, especially when tackling the thorny subject of creative burnout… More

Fearless Problem-Solving

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: whiteafrican (from the Maker Faire Africa, Ghana 2009)

What’s the difference between an artist and a technician? I suspect that the answer to that really depends on whom you’re talking to. I’m sure a lot of artists would say there’s all the difference in the world, but I’m not so sure I agree. I also think there are a lot of artists who get a lot done who might question the notion that there’s a cut-and-dried categorical difference between the two.

A lot of what really separates people who make art on an active, daily basis from people who don’t (but perhaps imagine that they could, or would like to) is not some mysterious source of ‘inspiration’ but technical skill and the experience it’s based on. And maybe even more than that, it’s about attitude. It’s about fearlessness.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been immersed in a task that was highly technical in nature, and less overtly ‘artistic’ than usual. However, it has in a way been highly creative and satisfying and I thought it would be interesting to explore that a little – and get around the music-and-art-bias that sometimes pervades things around here.

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Review Double Feature: ‘Ignore Everybody’ and ‘the War of Art’

book covers

Here’s a review of two recent books on creativity that have done rather well for themselves and their authors. The first is ‘The War of Art‘*, by screenwriter and novelist Stephen Pressfield (the title refers, of course, to the 6th century treatise on military strategy attributed to Sun Tzu, the Art of War); the second is the equally wonderfully-titled ‘Ignore Everybody (and 39 other Keys to Creativity)‘* by Hugh MacLeod, a popular cartoonist, blogger and general man-about-the-net.

While this will not be an entirely glowing review, particularly in one case, I want to start by saying that I consider both of these to be essential reading for the creativity space. Despite some misgivings, I think they are extremely valuable and accessible works and I heartily and unreservedly recommend them both.

There are a number of similarities, which is one reason I have chosen to review them together (another is that I happened to buy them together and read them sequentially). Both are edgy, streetwise and a little curmudgeonly, with short punchy chapters and an unapologetic willingness to take potentially controversial positions. Tough love, as it were, from a couple of guys who have done their time in the trenches – which is a nice change from the frequently more academic treatments of the topic.

Both are also written from the perspective of essentially solo artists, and portray the task at hand and the journey we are on as basically an individual endeavor. This might not ring true for everyone; as discussed in my previous post, collaboration is a deep creative well for many artists, and for some it is literally inseparable from the process; neither of these authors really mentions it at all. They may be more attractive to people working in similarly solitary idioms.

Finally, they are both fairly short books; I read each in a sitting-and-a-half, as it were, and will likely dip into them regularly for a bit of inspiration or a kick in the butt from time to time.

There are also some key differences: Ignore Everybody* is more practical, the War of Art* more psychological. MacLeod includes a selection of his own work in cartoon form, where Pressfield only makes reference to his novels and screenplays, in some cases quite self-effacingly. He also uses a lot more sports metaphors; this is the author of ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’, after all (subsequent events have cast a different light on his numerous references to Tiger Woods, but I’ll try not to hold that against him). More

Creativity and Collaboration

Rainbow Double with Beach Sunset

Creative Commons License photo credit: johnnyalive

So, as mentioned in the last post I spent some time with a number of old friends last week, and several of those I also count among the more creative people I’ve had the privilege of knowing over the years.

Today I’d like to be a bit more specific about this… and take the opportunity to talk about something I haven’t really touched on yet in these pages: collaborative creativity.

In many ways I am a fairly solitary creator much of the time, but as a performing musician I also find myself in collaborative situations quite frequently. Moreover, I have maintained a number of highly fruitful long-term associations with particularly gifted and creative musicians. One of these is my friend Ed Roman.

I visited Ed last week and we spent two days in the studio laying down some tracks for his new album. Although my involvement in the project ended a bit prematurely (due to a dental emergency), it was productive and inspirational and drew my attention to a few aspects of collaboration that seem worth exploring here…
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